Making chowder comes down to personal preferences. My seafood chowder lacks thickness and depth of flavour despite using fish stock, plenty of cream and marinara seafood mix. What ratios are recommended to get the perfect thick, tasty chowder?
- Nicki Arthur
It really depends what it is you want the final dish to look and taste like. For instance, in Manhattan you're likely to be served a chowder that contains tomato. However, in 1939 a law was passed in Maine, New England saying that it was illegal to include tomatoes in chowder. Their chowder is a bacon fat and potato-enriched clam chowder, whereas the Manhattan one is clear and has no potato to thicken it. It was likely the result of Portuguese immigrants cooking with local produce. Head further south down the east coast of the US and you'll find that both potatoes and flour are used to thicken the chowders of North Carolina. So, it's entirely up to you as to how thick or thin the chowder should be.
When I'm making a chowder I consider several things. Do I want to use bacon lardons in it or keep it meat-free - that depends on who I'm making it for.
Will I thicken it with potatoes, rice or flour? Rice gives it a lovely congee effect that I quite like.
Will I use smoked or unsmoked fish? Do I want to add pipis, clams and mussels or make it less chunky?
I never add carrots, capsicums or anything too brightly coloured, as I just don't think it looks good. Sometimes I'll add cream, sometimes creme fraiche and a little coconut cream. Parsley and chives are good, snipped chervil is as well, and some spring onion (or thinly sliced baby leeks) sweated out in the beginning works a treat. Butter works better than olive oil too.
Brown some bacon lardons (or diced smoked streaky bacon) in a little butter until fairly crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon and add a diced white-fleshed onion, a sliced spring onion and a few thinly sliced stalks of celery until the onion begins to caramelise - but stop cooking before it actually colours. At this point add either some diced peeled potatoes, a few dessertspoons of flour or half a cup of cooked rice. Cook without colouring and add enough fish stock to cover by 3cm. If using potatoes, cook on a rapid simmer until they're done. If it's flour or rice you've used, simmer for two minutes. Add equal amounts of cream and low fat milk and bring to a simmer, then add smallish pieces of fish, clams, pipis and so on (making sure you've de-sanded the shellfish first). You can add sliced squid or prawns as well for variety. Add chopped herbs (parsley, chives, dill, coriander) and cook until the fish is done, making sure it doesn't boil. If your chowder is too thick, thin it out with a little more cream or stock. Taste for seasoning. Serve piping hot in pre-heated bowls with the chervil and bacon sprinkled on top. Serve with freshly toasted sourdough smothered with salted butter - although in the US they often serve it with oyster crackers - sometimes adding them to the chowder as it cooks. They don't actually contain oysters but are lovely and crisp - like a salty cheese cracker.
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